A Kite (or simply Kite to Western audiences) is a 1998 OVA anime, written and directed by Yasuomi Umetsu. Originally released as two separate episodes on VHS, all subsequent DVD releases have been edited into one cohesive movie. The story follows Sawa, a young girl who was orphaned as a child and taken in by the detective investigating the case. She is manipulated into becoming an unwitting killer for hire and assumes the role of an instrument of justice when the legal system fails.

The story is a somber tale of exploitation, desperation, and loss swaddled in a blood-soaked thrill ride of film noir; the scenes of unrelenting action are a stark contrast to the melancholic nature of the overall story. The animation style teeters on the edge of traditional 90s anime and the birth of the moe style, offering an interesting view into the transition of the styles used in the medium. Though only fifty minutes in length, Sawa shows impressive character development, and her motives and actions reflect the grimy underworld she finds herself intertwined in.


Sawa in action

Although the anime’s basis seems to be adult-orientated, these scenes were not originally planned to be included in the story. To secure funding for his project, Yasuomi Umetsu was under a contractual obligation to include hardcore scenes in his work. The addition of these scenes is certainly where fans are split; with some applauding the grittiness these scenes add to the world Yasuomi created, while others have outright denounced the inclusion of these scenes, calling out their perverse nature. However, Kite was released with an uncut version as well as a version with these scenes censored in Japan as well as other countries, seemingly appeasing both parties adequately.

Producer Osamu Koshinonaka commented that Umetsu was notoriously difficult to work with during the project. Having a clear mental image of the final product, the director heavily scrutinized his team’s work, claiming that it rarely held up to his vision, which put a strain on both the project’s budget and schedule. However, even with the ultimatum of having to focus on one or the other, Umetsu stuck to his creative guns until the very last minute. His team of animators carried the burden, and would often go days without sleep just to be able to meet deadlines.

Despite this, the final product managed to achieve cult status and was eventually followed up with Kite Liberator in 2007, also directed by Yasuomi Umetsu. The OVA drops the adult elements of the original and is more of an action drama that still maintains some of the more violent elements of its predecessor along with mixing intense family drama. The story focuses on a new character called Monica, with Sawa retaining a smaller, background role–much to the dismay of fans.

In 2014, a crowdfunding effort began to create a live-action version of the film starring the outspoken fan of the original, Samuel L Jackson, by South African director Ralph Ziman. This version was a complete flop both commercially as well as with critics and fans, completely missing what made the original so alluring to begin with.


It’s difficult to ignore the cultural significance of Kite and how it has influenced popular culture over the last twenty-ish years since its creation. With creators from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Ramirez, along with many more, all stated how important the work is to them as filmmakers. Regardless of personal feelings about its adult content, with so many versions available, there is little reason not to experience this classic piece of anime history.


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